Long Story Short: Feature Animations at the Ottawa International Animation Film Festival 2016.
It was another year for the Ottawa International Animation Film Festival’s (OIAFF) rendition of a myriad of stories. For the 40th time, flocks of animators, producers, studio representatives, scholars, and animation enthusiasts converged on the Canadian capital for the biggest animation festival in North America.
A selection of animations of every kind paired with panels, workshops, job fairs, and parties to show the latest animation from around the world: independent shorts, studio features, student works, animated commercials, and more.
While animation festivals are mostly the domain of short films, and while these form the main contingent at OIAFF, feature films figured prominently in the program. Feature animations outside the mainstream studios comprised a spectrum of themes and styles. Here are some of them.
Louise En Hiver (Louise by The Shore) Dir. Jean-François Laguionie 2016, Canada-France
The latest in the director’s long animation career, the feature is a contemplative story of old age in a magical realist note. The elderly Louise is left behind in the seaside town of Billigen after she misses the last train and a storm isolates the town.
Filled with the surrealism of dreams, Louise’s world is painted with pastel tones over textured layers that skillfully integrate the cartoon-rendered 3D characters. This includes the protagonist, the dog Pepper, and all the other characters from a past she encounters with a slow but well orchestrated pace. The animation of these is equally well-timed and the movements of Louise reflect those of the flow of time in the story.
It is a story about forgetting, nostalgia, solitude, and resignation. As she adapts to her loneliness, we witness the convergence of past and present, of imagined and real that, like her dreams, “come gently, like mysterious waves.”
Psiconautas: The Forgotten Children. Dirs. Alberto Vazquez and Pedro Rivero 2015, Spain
A fairy tale gone wrong, Psiconautas is an allegorical exploration of the troubled mind in an oppressive society. The story occurs in a dystopian island, where an industrial accident has ravaged nature and society; the survivors live in scarcity and conservativism. Amidst this scenario, the enigmatic Birdboy tries to restore nature while battling his inner demons and evading the police. Meanwhile his love interest Dinky and her friends try to escape for a better life, “but nothing turns ever turns out as you expect.”
Cast in a bleak palette of painted textures, dark and red tones, and line drawings, the imagery mirrors the broken psyche of the characters. The loss of parents, substance abuse, misery and poverty, are some of the themes envisioned. Seemingly everyone has a background to hide or an unfulfilled wish, and the difference between good and evil is often as murky as the chiaroscuro of the environments.
Psiconautas is based on Alberto Vazquez’ graphic novel of the same name and expands the short animation Birdboy (2011). Through the different graphic styles we encounter the same deep and often troubling story.
Window Horses Dir. Ann Marie Fleming 2016, Canada
Crowdfunded for its realization, this animation is a coming-of-age tale, intellectual voyage, and familial origin discovery set in Vancouver and Iran. When Vancouverite Rosie Ming self-publishes a book of poems about her love for a Paris she has never been to, she is invited to a poetry festival set in the home of her missing father: Shiraz, Iran.
Based on her graphic novel Window Horses: The Poetic Epiphany of Rosie Ming, the story explores Iranian poetry, father-daughter relations, and multiethnic roots. The fictional summit of poets is peppered with political references to actual political struggles and the role of the artist in them.
The narrative is conveyed through dialogues but also the transformation of shapes in a manner akin to motion graphics. The visual style is a consistent collage of layered shapes and cut-out aesthetics, and the protagonist’s stick figure design highlights her multiple or indefinite ethnicity. Indeed, the story resembles the multiple origins of Fleming, of Chinese and Australian parents, born in Japan, and based in Vancouver. While biographical, Window Horses also shows Iranian history and culture, and speaks of the effects these have had in the minds and hearts of diasporic offspring.
NUTS! Dir. Penny Lane 2016, USA
Part documentary, part fiction, part joke, NUTS! tells the story of medic and radio producer John Romulus Brinkley and his profitable and controversial story. Of obscure origins and shrouded by foul play, Brinkley’s life is marked by success and struggle, and this animated documentary takes an unexpected spin on his story. Told through the language of cartoons, archival footage, and interviews with historians and biographers, NUTS! portrays a larger than life persona who was the “Citizen Kane” of the early 20th century American Midwest. Brinkley operates, literally and metaphorically, using charisma and popularity to fend off regulators and institutional control.
Told with a collage of animation techniques and live-action, the feature tells Brinkley’s story in a way only animated documentaries can do. Moreover, it questions the authority of the medium and the claim to truth of documentary works, echoing the questionable character it depicts.
Nerdland Dir. Chris Prynoski 2016, USA
From the director of Beavis and Butthead Do America comes this acidic R-rated parody on consumerism, celebrity, and failure. Best buddies and roommates John, actor, and Elliot, screenwriter, are living unsuccessfully in Los Angeles and trying to achieve fame. Intent on acquiring it in one day, the story follows their attempts and odd consequences with a crude, explicit, and often cruel eye that satirizes contemporary culture and the obscure prospects of creative millennials.
The giddiness of the images, relying on the exaggeration of advertisement styles, mingles with the anxious line drawings and the warm California colors. These evoke Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but the richness of detail, the constant side gags and references to contemporary culture render it more as a postmodern cartoon than a mere illustration. Indeed, many of the transitions make fun of billboard signs or mimic live-action technics like time-lapse and slow-motion. Nerdland is a buddy film whose absurdity turns every character into a social type, every situation into a representation of our obsession with screen culture, and plays with the obsession with sex, money, and success upon which entertainment is often predicated.